Imagine this review unfolding in slo-mo to the rising strains of Vangelis’s electronic score, with Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze and plenty of ancient Oxbridge brickwork coming into view – and you’ve got some idea of the package that made this 1981 British film so friendly to Academy voters and audiences worldwide.
Thirty years after it won four Oscars, ‘Chariots of Fire’ has been revived, but its vital signs are more sluggish than ever. Some of the ingredients are there for a strong sports movie: two runners from different backgrounds, each defined by difficult relationships with their faiths, prepare to compete for Britain at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) is a Scottish Christian sprinter with a hotline to God, a disdain for the establishment and a sister who would prefer they go on a mission to China, while Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is a Jewish Cambridge student who experiences racism from the mouths of everyone from the porter (Richard Griffiths) to a college head (John Gielgud).
There are scenes that grab – Abrahams’s dash round Trinity quad; the chats between Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson as dons who dress up prejudice in fine words. But the parallel stories tend to cancel out, rather than complement, each other. Oddly, for a film about triumph over adversity, there’s nothing as uplifting as the opening and closing jogs along a windswept beach.